Turning the Wheels Mondate

Three years ago I’d had the pleasure of spending two days bushwhacking along City Brook in South Waterford, Maine, with naturalist, historian, and author Robert “Bob” Spencer as he told me the stories of the mills that once operated there and the two of us pondered life long ago. And so, when I saw that part of the trail Bob has long dreamed of had opened, my guy and I decided to head to the city.

Waterford City, that is. As Bob had explained, “In the 1870s, South Waterford was dubbed “Waterford City” for the noise and bustle brought to the town by nine mills and many supporting outbuildings lining the brook.”

The water was rather on the low side today, but we began our tour by Watson’s Falls, the fifth power site that had been identified by the proprietors.

The mill, which Bob and his wife, Gere, have repurposed into their home, was originally granted to Isaac Smith in 1795 for a saw mill. Over the course of its lifetime, the building served as a cloth and linseed oil mill, saw mill, salt box factory, and cider mill.

Beside it, we stopped to read an interpretive sign that shares a bit of the story about what has happened in this spot and all along the brook over the centuries.

Later, at home, I started looking at the US Census reports, curious about the people and their work. I should have taken a close-up image of the map that shows the industrious neighborhood, but let me share what I found on a Products of Industry page for 1870:

William Watson: water power; box factory; 2 machines, employed 5

Bisbee Pingree (I may have that name wrong, it was difficult to read): water power; carriage shop, wagons, sleighs & repairs; employed 2

Charles Watson: blacksmith; iron and steel; employed 1

Zebedee Perry: water power; wool carding and cloth dressing; employed 2

Monroe Briggs and Company: water power; tannery; leather; employed 2

Samuel Miller: water power; iron foundry and machine shop; employed 6

Cobb and Hapgood: water power; lumber manufacturing; employed 2

Cobb and Hapgood: water power; grist mill; grain; employed 1

Emerson Wilkin: water power: tannery; leather; employed 1

Charles Saunders: blacksmith, iron and steel; employed 1

McKensy Buswell: water power; tannery; leather; illegible # of employees

John B Rand: cooper shop; staves and shook; employed 6

As you can see, they didn’t all need to be located beside the brook, but nine mills did use water as the source of power.

Today, we looked down at the brook that flowed below Watson’s Falls in the center of the city, and then decided to see if we could follow it downstream at all.

Our walk took us past the children’s park where I’m sure the locals have a name for this delightful swingman who speaks to the past with a grin and stars in his eyes.

Not far beyond the park, we found another sign by the site that belonged to Zebedee Perry in 1870. By 1880, Walter K. Hamlin and his son, Albert, operated the carding mill. As you can see, in 1963, it was purchased by Old Sturbridge Village, where a sign still commemorates its Waterford heritage.

When we looked out toward the brook, unfortunately all we could see was a mass of invasive plants where the mill was once located. Such is the case for areas open to the sun.

And so we continued on to the closed bridge. There wasn’t a “No Trespassing” sign and so we did. But do you see the lovely red and yellow leaves by my guy’s feet: Poison Ivy. Given that, we decided to backtrack back to city center at Watson’s Falls and then make our way to the mill sites above.

For a wee bit, we had to walk along Routes 35/37; but really it was a pleasure because not only did our friends, David and Darbee Percival, stop to talk briefly about the trail awaiting us before driving on, but also it gave us an opportunity to take a look at the area where a sluice and bucket shop were once located.

And remnants of yore as well; this a truck in its former life.

On Routes 35/37 by the Mill Hill intersection and just below the Wesleyan Church, circa 1845, we found the unmarked opening to the trail and slipped off the road.

Recently, Bob, with the help of others including our friend, Dave, posted trail blazes to denote the path. Though we could hear the traffic and sometimes see it through the trees, we felt like we had entered a time capsule and no one was aware of our presence.

We had hoped to find more interpretive signs to help us understand what we were looking at, but I suspect those will come, given that we saw one sign post all ready for a placard. In the meantime, we wondered if the smaller rocks to the right formed the wall of a sluiceway.

And we noted split stone in various locations. I’ve not yet found a census report stating who owned what farm animals in this area, but suspect oxen were among the keepings. How else would they have moved those large slabs?

A boulder pile strewn among the brook offerings to the right of my guy gave rise to several questions: Had someone intended to build a structure here? Had a structure been taken apart? And where-oh-where might the quarry be located? So many questions must lead to further explorations.

All along the way, more artifacts revealed themselves.

I love that people respect these by leaving them be as they give us a glimpse into the distant past.

We also spotted barbed wire. I remember finding some in about this place with Bob three years ago, but it didn’t look quite like this. He and I had wondered if among all the mills, there may have been some farm animals roaming about. Perhaps oxen? Certainly not sheep, because their fleece would have been ruined by the barbs.

And could all of these rolls that still remain have been intended to become more barbed wire?

There was also a cellar hole of sorts to ascertain. Within in it were some boulders that made no sense. But to someone in a day long ago, it all had a purpose.

At last we reached the access road to Keoka Lake, its bridge having withstood the test of time.

And beyond it a stone-lined sluiceway where today barely any water trickled.

The sluiceway was created beside a more recent power site, located where Bob had previously told me the first dam for the lake stood.

The structure was impressive, despite the fact that I didn’t quite understand its ins and outs.

And couldn’t help but question once again why the dam had been abandoned and a more modern one built a quarter of a mile north. Did the lake once extend a quarter of a mile south from its current impoundment?

While I stood below the large structure, a little nature admiration seeped into my soul–thankfully. We’d been moving rather quickly (because I was with you know who and we had an appointment that made us cognizant of our timing) but I couldn’t help but say a quiet thanks for the sight of Sensitive Ferns’ beady fertile fronds.

At last we reached Keoka, where a strong breeze greeted us with a blast of cold air.

We spent a moment looking at the current dam–which is really quite ugly, especially when compared to all the granite structures we’d passed.

But it now marks the Keoka Outlet and beginning of City Brook, so named for the “city” that once existed at a time when people needed to saw their own wood, grind their own grain, card their own wool, build their own carriages and sleds, etc. Theirs was an industrious time. And water power was a necessity to many enterprises.

After a few minutes beside the lake, we followed the access road back and actually walked out to the state road for a quicker return.

As best it can, Waterford City clings to its past . . .

though a fresh coat of paint here and there may help preserve it a little better so those monuments still standing don’t become mere foundations like their neighbors.

We were excited to see one bit of renewal–for Kimball Hardware has added lobsters to their offerings. Kimball Hardware & Lobsters. Someone has an entrepreneurial mindset. Why not?

With that, our Mondate hike came to an end near where the water wheel continues to turn as it celebrates the history of South Waterford, aka Waterford City.

Celebrating the Ette

Having a tendency to be a bit prickly in certain situations, I can relate to one who exudes this characteristic.

And today was even more special because I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes in the presence of the immature form of my prickly friend whose “English name, ‘porcupine,’ comes from the Latin for quill and pig (porcus = pig and spina = quill). The scientific name, Erethizon dorsatum translates loosely as ‘creature with an aroused back.'” (Thanks PM)

Yes, it was a young porcupine that I met upon a gravel driveway. And the pleasure was all mine. For a moment, however, I did wonder about its daytime foraging habit. Was there something wrong with this critter, e.g. rabies, for he and his parents are generally nocturnal? But, as I watched, I was reassured that it was just out enjoying a mid-afternoon snack.

And in watching, I actually got to see the motion that I know so well through its parents winter footprints left in the snow. Notice how the feet on the right side are both in motion and the left side supports the rodent’s weight for a quick second, before it all switches to the opposite side? All with the toes turned in, of course. And nails extended out front. You know who else waddles in such a manner? A bear. And minus the quills, who does the porcupine remind you of?

Periodically, as he crossed the drive, he stopped and stood on two feet. I wanted to think he was checking me out as I checked him out, but really, a porcupine’s eyesight is rather poor. Instead, as he develops so do his two best senses: sound and smell. Did he perhaps sniff me?

I don’t think so. What he was really intent upon were the acorns that had fallen from a Northern Red Oak that towered above.

Lately, it seems, no matter where I am in the woods, I realize that the sky is falling as acorns land with kerplunks. And porcupines, after all, are herbivores, feasting as they do on all that our forests and fields have to offer in the spring and summer, and then bark and twigs and the underpinnings of our barns in the winter.

Every once in a while, this little guy turned his back on me. Had he been an adult, I would have seen the action as a defensive mode for they are known to spin around so that their tails face the predator during a confrontation. If attacked, an adult will use the tail to strike its assailant. And those quills—they detach easily and with their barbed ends become embedded in the skin of the attacker. But . . . it’s a misconception to think that a porcupine can eject or throw its quills.

This babe was born in the spring, somewhere between April and June. I’m assuming (never assume—if you know what I mean) he was an early babe and is now independent since he appeared to be moving about with no parents watching anxiously. He won’t reach sexually maturity until next September. Until then, he’ll enjoy life on his own.

Our time together, wasn’t long as I said, but I was grateful for a few moments to celebrate the porcup-ette, as a young one is known. Here’s to you, little prickly pig.

Bear to Beer Possibilities: Meredith’s Page Pond and Forest

Out of the magical hiking box today came the possibility of Page Pond and Forest in Meredith, New Hampshire. And so my guy and I found ourselves driving from the Lake Region of Maine to the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, my old tromping grounds.

Because it was noon when we arrived, we decided to begin our adventure with a beer. Especially since on our last Bear to Beer Possibility adventure, we never did sip any suds. The note in the magical hiking box suggested that we stop by Frog Rock Tavern in Meredith. The beer we enjoyed. Mine was a Switchback and his a 603 Winni Ale. The food–not so great. In fact, the cheese and lettuce in my chicken sandwich were thicker than the breast. And BBQ sauce poured out of his chicken wrap as if it wanted to join the Waukewan Canal that flowed below our table.

But, right after lunch we headed to Page Pond and Forest and soon forgot lunch for our focus was on the American Beech trees and whatever else we might discover on this property that the town has conserved because of its importance both historically and naturally, especially with its vicinity to Lake Winnipesaukee. Would we find bear claw marks on the trees was our main question.

We started examining every beech tree we met both on trail and off, but loved the vistas offered, such as this look at Page Pond.

Beside the pond was a wetland that screamed dragonflies to us and so we stood still and watched.

I suggested to my guy that he stick his hand out and actually he did. Bingo. In flew a male Autumn Meadowhawk. My guy: the new Dragonfly Whisperer.

And then we saw a couple canoodling. Of course.

It may have been that others were canoodling or who knows what they were doing when they abandoned their truck. But, we were on property that had previously been farmed and quarried, so it wasn’t really such a surprise to encounter such an artifact.

Coming upon the mill site, however, was a delightful surprise. We knew it was there, but the sight of it was worth our awe.

According to Daniel Heyduk, who wrote a historical guide to this place, “Sewall Leavitt built a substantial dam and sawmill, which he operated until selling the mill and the 2 ½ acre mill lot to John Page in 1836. Page operated the mill until 1855, and the brook became known locally as Page Brook”.

It’s an impressive sight.

Heyduk writes: “Measured today, the dam is 96 feet long, 16 feet wide and 18 feet high at the spillway. The sluice opening is 5 feet wide and 9 feet high. The walls of the spillway which carries water from the sluice are 53 feet long.”

Because we were near water, we spotted several young Garter Snakes,

many, many Cardinal Flowers (I even heard my guy telling a woman their name as I bushwhacked to take some close-up photos–quite the naturalist has he become.),

and Pickerel Frogs.

We did well following the outer trails of the looped system on this almost 900-acre property, but . . . we got a bit ambitious and found ourselves suddenly crossing a field to nowhere. Well, it went somewhere, but took us away from the pond and forest and we ended up having to back track.

That was okay with me because I had the opportunity to spend a moment with a Monarch Butterfly.

Make that two moments.

Back on the trails, along the Wetland Loop, we began to realize that the shadows were growing longer.

And though we marched quickly back through the variety of natural communities because the hour was later than we’d realized, we paid a visit to the Leavitt cemetery before departing.

In his guide, Heyduk notes, “Schoolmaster and Farmer’s Almanac founder Dudley Leavitt, his wife Judith, and their children moved to Meredith in 1806, buying some 47 acres of lot 45. Leavitt bought more parcels between 1813 and 1829, bringing his farm to some 115 acres, which he actively farmed together with teaching in the public and his own school,
writing textbooks and researching and writing the almanac. Two years after moving to Meredith, Dudley Leavitt was signing the town tax inventory as a selectman. He wrote the annual Leavitt’s Old Farmer’s Almanack from 1797 until his death in 1851, and left manuscripts for the years through 1857.”

Oh yes, there was all of that, but we went in search of bear claw trees. There were beech nuts after all–a favorite form of sustenance for Black Bears.

But the only Black Bear in sight was one whom I follow on many a hike as he tends to don his UMaine clothing. On the back of his T-shirt the motto is this: Forever a Black Bear. And if you scroll back to the photo of the beers, you’ll see the Black Bear on his sweatshirt posed between the two glasses.

So . . . on our last Bear to Beer Possibility adventure we didn’t sip any suds as I said earlier. And today, we didn’t find any evidence of bears.

But, do you see who we did find? ARCHIE! His creator, Bob Montana, lived in Meredith for 35 years and last August the town dedicated this statue to him as part of their 250th anniversary.

Bear to Beer Possibilities: Good Beer. No Bears (except for my guy). And Archie. Another fun day of discoveries.

Making a New Friend, Naturally

I don’t always find it easy to get to know someone upon our first greeting, especially if our time together is brief. And sometimes it takes me a year or even longer to feel comfortable in the presence of another. But there was something a wee bit different about today’s encounter that encouraged me to break down any false barriers.

Maybe it was because at first glance I thought an old friend had stopped by for the clothing it wore on its back looked familiar.

But my old friend, Ashy, wears a cloak with a yellow triangular spot on segment eight on the coat tails and segments nine and ten have no coloration above.

If you look back at my new acquaintance, you’ll realize that the pattern is quite different all the way to the hem line.

That’s when I began to realize I was in the presence of someone I hadn’t had the pleasure to meet before. Or, if I had, perhaps I hadn’t taken the time to notice the idiosyncrasies that earned it a name. To really get to know him.

Notice, for instance, the wide black shoulder stripe on the side of his thorax.

And the spines along the thigh of his hind leg.

Those two features were key, but there was more to see: look at the thorax again. Can you see two long, thin bluish-green ovals and the “I” that separates them?

Because he looked similar in some ways to Ashy and another friend I know as Sir Lancelot, I wondered if he’d be comfortable with an up close and personal meeting.

It appeared he didn’t mind as my steel-gray-blue eyes peered into his of vivid green.

He didn’t stay on my finger long and despite the fact that he was at least a half inch longer than his cousins, he felt like a lightweight.

I, of course, could not let the chance encounter pass without another opportunity to gain a closer perspective.

He seemed to feel the same . . .

and ever so slowly climbed aboard again. Three times we stared at each other, but each time it was only for a brief period.

At last he flew off and I could only hope that he felt as excited about our meeting as I did.

My only other hope is that the next time we meet, I remember his name: Black-shouldered Spinyleg Clubtail Dragonfly or Dromogomphus spinosus.

Today, I made a new friend, naturally. And it wasn’t so hard after all.

Bear to Beer Possibilities: Brownfield’s Burnt Meadow Mountain

It’s been a while since my guy and I have ventured on a Bear to Beer Possibility hike, but today dawned bright and even a wee bit chilly. A perfect August day. A perfect hiking day.

As he dipped his hand into the little box filled with potential, Burnt Meadow Mountain in Brownfield surfaced.

And so it was that we decided to hike up and down the Twin Brooks Trail rather than doing the loop to the North Peak. Though a bit longer, it proved to be a good choice as we came upon a couple of bear trees we hadn’t met previously. The first was the best for so many claw marks did it feature.

Even from the back side there was proof that not only was this our favorite bear tree, but it was also some bear’s favorite.

A little further on we found another we hadn’t met before. Or . . . perhaps we were meeting it for the first time all over again. That happens to us sometimes and, after all, we were approaching from a different angle than is our norm.

There were other things to slow us down, like the occasional Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonfly, especially in an area where the trail had been rerouted a few years ago during a logging operation and most of the growth is early successional.

And a Bald-faced Hornet nest that was quite active. “How does your nest grow?” I asked the lady of the house. “With chewed wood fibers mixed with saliva,” she responded. The result was an impressive condominium a few feet off the trail.

Continuing on, there was a cave that deserved a visit so my guy peeked in. Fortunately, no one peeked out.

And then . . . another bear tree, though not nearly as impressive as those we spotted previously.

Onward and upward we climbed. Thankfully, we didn’t have to partake of the heart-throbbing scramble of the North Peak Trail that sometimes gives me pause, but we still had some scrambling to do on the trail of today’s choice.

It was worth it, for we paused at one point and turned to take in the view of Mount Washington.

At last we reached the flat top of Burnt Meadow Mountain. It always amazes us that with all the boulders and ledges we encounter on the way up, the summit is rather like a mesa.

Lunch rock found us taking in the view to the east. The Atlantic Ocean is somewhere beyond the sea of trees.

And though there were still plenty of berries at the top, we never met an interested bear. (Almost 20 years ago, we did when hiking there with our sons.) Nor was my guy interested in what I typically call his blue gold.

Instead, he chose to nap.

As for me, well, you can guess what I was doing before we descended. This tiny dragonfly is a female Eastern Amberwing and this was our first meeting. I first met her male counterpart last month in NYC’s Central Park.

She wasn’t a bear, but in my book, she was the next best thing.

And the Backburner Restaurant in Brownfield wasn’t open when we passed by on our way home, so . . . our bear to beer possibility this time included bear trees but not beer. Even so, it was a great hike.

Mondate with Pam and Charles

Don’t tell her husband who wasn’t able to join us today, but Pam fell fast and hard for another guy. His name is Charles.

It was supposed to be just the three of us kayaking when we launched this morning, Pam, my guy, and me.

But it soon became apparent that this other guy was trying to woe her with bouquets of wildflowers, including Cardinals so red,

Turtleheads so white,

Arrowheads with broad leaves,

and those whose leaves overtopped the flowers.

But I think Pam was most wowed when he presented her with Ground-nut, its maroonish flower with a pair of upper petals forming a hood or keel, a pair of lower lateral wings, and a lower keel that curled upward.

And then Charles made a point of inviting his friends to meet Pam, though we wondered if the Painted Turtle always grimaced or if perhaps he was jealous of all the attention bestowed upon her.

The male Emerald Jewelwing Dragonfly was much friendlier and happy to say hello in its lighthearted manner.

And the Dragonhunter Dragonfly made frequent visits to get . . .

to know . . .

Pam better. We’re grateful he didn’t decide to gobble her up.

But perhaps Pam’s favorite moment was when Charles presented not just a Pickerel Weed in flower, but also a Clearwing Hummingbird Moth pollinating it.

Oh, he wasn’t one to make things super easy, that Charles.

But he’d asked my guy to help us portage around the dam, and so we never had to get out of our kayaks. Chivalry at its best.

Continuing our paddle, we began to think of Charles’ estate as Brigadoon for such were the colors each time we rounded a bend.

Around a final corner, Charles revealed his mansion with promises of many happy days to come.

It was so large that we knew it was an example of a big house, little house, back house, barn, which made sense given that Charles’ family had long lived in the area.

On one of the walls inside, he’d painted a scene that reflected the outdoors, including the mountains in the background.

From the backdoor it was a straight shot and suddenly we emerged onto his pond. The man was wealthy, but we told Pam that if she was going to fall for him, she had to do some serious thinking for her guy Bob is really the one who holds the strings to her heart.

In the end, though she thanked him for sharing his place with us today, Pam did inform Charles that they could remain friends, but not get any closer than that. And she added that the next time they meet, Bob will be with her.

My guy and I were thankful that she introduced us to the kind man as the three of us explored his property: Charles River and Charles Pond in Fryeburg, Maine. But we’re equally grateful that their relationship will remain merely aquatic.

The Secrets of Life Found Among the Dead

Dear Mr. Charles,

In 1882 you passed
from this life to the next,

but it appears
that your story
didn’t end there.

Today was the day
that in your nymph stage,
you chose
to emerge
from your underground burrow
where the sap
of plant roots
had sustained you
for several years.

While I walked about
and noticed
other forms of life
taking place within
the fenced land,

such as Robberflies
canoodling in their
tail-to-tail fashion,

and a Chipmunk
who made me think
the dead were walking
until I saw it
checking on me,

I also spotted
the larval skins
left behind by
many of your kin

who had chosen
a nearby tree trunk
and surrounding ground
for such a transformation.

Their thickened legs
spoke of the digging
your species endures
while in that
subterranean habitat.

You, however,
preferred your stone
for metamorphosis.

Ever so slowly
through a split
along your back,

your body,
pale-colored at first,
extended outward.

Large and chunky
with bulbous,
yet beady eyes,

and long,
thick-veined
and translucent wings,

you looked like
something out
of a sci-fi movie.

Hues of salmon.
pale green.
and aquamarine.

At first
your coloration
reminded me
of a pastel painting,

but over time
it became apparent
that your palette
changed with maturity

and eventually
looked more like
a camouflaged adult
who will spend time
in the nearby tree.

Left behind
was an empty shell
of your former self.

Our time together
came to an end
after periodic checks
over the course
of three hours.
I suspect by now
you’ve flown
to a tree
in search
of a mate.
The resulting eggs
will be laid
on a branch,
and your story
will come
to an end
once again,
Mr. Charles.
But never fear,
for the next generation
will carry on
the circle of life
as the larvae hatch
and fall to the ground,
where they’ll burrow
into the earth beneath
or somewhere very near
your resting place
before resurfacing
as young nymphs
ready as you were
to burst forth from
their exoskeletons
three years from now.

Thank you
for allowing me
to watch
on this day
as you shared
the secrets of
a Cicada’s life
while I wandered
among the dead

.